THE PHASES OF THE CITY'S PAST --THE FIRST SETTLERS --INCORPORATED AS A CITY --THE BAXTER SPRINGS MASSACRE --DISCOVERY OF LEAD AND ZINC --DEVELOPMENT OF THE WATER POWER ON SPRING RIVER --RESIDENCES.
The site of Baxter Springs could scarcely be excelled in any country. It is neither level nor very hilly. Situate on the west side of Spring River, in the southeast corner of Cherokee County, and about two miles north of the Indian Territory line, half in woodland. half in what was originally a prairie, the city never fails favorably to impress those who sojourn within its quiet, restful precincts. It was not always thus; for in the early days, when it was a mere outpost on the frontier, it was known, far and wide, as "a tough place," made up of a number of classes of people who would scarcely be taken into the aggregate of polite society. Hither came people from the North and East, seeking easement from the harder conditions under which they had lived in the States of denser population, some of them hoping through upright methods to gain a footing where they might establish homes, while others, more of roving, adventurous dispositions, came along to light upon any edge of fortune that might turn in the constant drifting of a reckless life. From the South and Southwest there came the not less reckless but the bolder classes of the extreme frontier, honorable in a way, true to a friend, but deliberately cold to the approach of those who might be suspected of a questionable design. The classes who furnished the money were those who came from the older sections of the country, as merchants and tradespeople, and those who came from the frontier, as the owners of the vast herds of cattle which, in those days, were driven northward, to come within easier reach of the markets or to meet the cattle buyers, who were plentiful at that time. Being the principal trade mart of the Southwest, the place was the nerve center of a constantly widening area from which it drew all things unto itself. Money was so plentiful-that men became wild in their speculative ideas; and those who had the direction of public affairs reckoned not at all for the future; or, if they did, they could see nothing but a continuation of the feverish conditions of the material prosperity which had set the town so well along. By the year 1875 the town had a population of about 5,000; but long before that it had voted bonds to the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad, to the amount of $150,000. In 1871, after the railroad bonds had been voted, $25,000 was voted for building school houses, and $10,000 for a Court House; and in 1873 $4,000 was voted for street improvements, making the bonded indebtedness of the city $189,000, an amount greater than the real value of the taxable property of the people. Subsequently, the building of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad and the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway into the Indian Territory, the one south and the other west of Baxter Springs, so cut off the Texas cattle trade as practically to ruin the trade interests of the town. When the trade of the city was taken away; when civilization, in its Westward march, pushed the frontier farther on, and the place settled down to the basis of its own merit, the ardor and enthusiasm which had led the people into wild ideas as to the future of the town cooled down; but their bonded obligations remained no less exacting. Creditors rarely slacken their hand on account of the weakened condition of the debtor. If a "pound of flesh" is "nominated in the bond," the payment is demanded at the limit of its run. The tax burden of the people of Baxter Springs grew so heavy that there was a distressing diminution of the population, by reason of the fact that a large number, weakened in their purposes by the general misfortunes of the city, and seeing no early prospect of a better turn, abandoned what they could illy afford to hold and left for other parts. About that time the discovery of the rich ore fields in the Joplin district and at Galena drew away many people, who surrendered their property to the iron-handed tax gatherer. The desolation was so complete, and values went so low, that property which in the better days had been highly prized was sold under the hammer at a merely nominal price, to satisfy the demands of public debt. The conditions w ere such that even the bond holders found it necessary to accept a compromise ranging from 20 cents to 50 cents on the dollar; but even this left to the few people who remained a mere modicum of hope. But to those who did remain, and who have withstood hardships which would crush out the life of a less courageous people, there is now the dawn of a better day. They have endured a long night of weeping, and through it they have earned the joy of the morning, whose cheering light is now beginning to break through the rifted clouds. With the conditions now setting in, under which there is a permanent growth fostered and guided through the experience of those who have undergone every manner of hardship, it is safe to say that Baxter Springs bids fair, not far hence, to become one of the most delightful dwelling places in the entire West. The city has come through great tribulation, such as has been the lot of many a Western town whose hopes and fears have alternated through the shifting phases of fortune; but it has now come to an estate of better things, where the joy of the achievement of laudable aims enables the people in a measure to forget the gloom through which they have come. The city has freed itself from the burden of public debt, and it is safe to say that its affairs will hereafter be guided clear of such entanglements as those through which it has passed so much of its time.
Baxter Springs took its name from A. Baxter, the first person to take a claim on the land on which the northeast part of the town was afterward built. According to the statement of Mrs. A. Willard, who is now 64 years old, and who has lived all her life in the neighborhood, "Old Man Baxter" lighted upon his claim about the year 1850, and could, therefore, be nothing more than a "squatter." In the chapter of this volume treating of the early settling of the county I have somewhat described the character of the man and have given an account of his tragic death. In addition to what is there said, it has been later learned that he was a kind of self-appointed Universalist missionary, and that he finally drifted into spiritualism and later into infidelity. Baxter first built a squatter's shack on the claim which he took, a short distance in a northeasterly direction from the spring, and broke out a few acres of ground, the meager returns of which were sufficient to meet the simple wants of himself and family. With these rude pretensions, suited to the character of frontier life, they lived along in comparative comfort until there came to be some travel through the country, occasional adventurers from the States, who were pushing westwardly in search of broader and freer fields. He then built a small inn or tavern for the accommodation of sojourners, many of whom mysteriously came and as mysteriously went away.
Some time after A. Baxter had built his tavern there came a man by the name of Powell, who opened the first store ever in the place and did a kind of small business, after the manner of merchants at the outposts of civilization, where came the few settlers to lay out their meager savings in the purchase of such things as answered the wants of their unpretentious lives, and to hear the news which the country store-keeper was supposed to be able to give out. Some time after Powell came, Jefferson Davis and a man by the name of Armstrong lighted upon claims and built rude shanties, their claims being on lands upon which a part of the town was afterward built. Years afterward, when the county had been organized, and courts had been established, Davis was the defendant in a criminal action, the first case, of any kind, that was tried in the District Court of Cherokee County. The trial came on at the first day of the only term of court held at Pleasant View, then the county seat; and it was the only case tried at that term, which began on Monday, May 6, 1867, and lasted three days. It is said that Davis was charged with committing a felony, and that he was convicted.
Baxter Springs was incorporated in 1869, as a city of the second class; and at that time it was, by far, the most important place in the county, for it had long possessed advantages which easily gave it that distinction. L. G. Denton was the city's first mayor. Since then the following persons have been elected to the office: H. R. Crowell, Mr. Boyd, Philip Pfenning, J. M. Cooper, J. C. Naylor, J. B. Opperman, W. H. Hornor, J. J. Fribley, W. S. Norton, C. W. Daniels and L. D. Brewster, the last named gentleman being the present mayor. The people have always chosen their best business men to hold the office of mayor; and they have been equally careful in selecting the members of the City Council. Despite the fact that in the early days, when speculative ideas were large, and the future was believed to have nothing in store but the continuation of the good conditions which then prevailed, the city government laid out courses which often ran into disaster and brought on the sorest of hardships; but through it all the people have done what they could, and their work has not been in vain.
On October 6, 1863, when the spirit of civil war was abroad in the land; when the fires of sectional strife had been fanned into a devouring flame, an event took place at Baxter Springs without the chronicling of which the history of the city would most certainly be incomplete. Reference is had to what has since been known as the "Baxter Springs massacre." Had a great conflagration swept the city at a time when it was at the height of its early glory, or had a dire pestilence stealthily crept into the habitations of the people and carried them away, such an event could not be compared in its impression with the ineffaceable mark of this event.
Perhaps a better account of the massacre cannot now be given than that written by Dr. W. H. Warner, of Girard, Kansas, who was among the garrison in the little fort at Baxter Springs at the time. I here quote, substantially, what he says of the dark, bloody affair:
"Our garrison, up to two days previous to the attack, consisted of one company of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Cook, and Company D, of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry, commanded by Lieut. John Crites, who had command of the post, but who had been summoned to Fort Scott, leaving Lieut. Cook in command. On this day, the 4th day of October, we were reinforced by Company C, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, under Lieutenant Pond, who, on his arrival, assumed command of the post. Three sides of the camp were protected with logs and earth, thrown up about four feet high. The west side had been removed the day before, for the purpose of enlarging the camp. On the morning before the fight sixty picked men, with all the teams and wagons, were sent out to forage through the country, leaving a fighting force of twenty-five cavalry and sixty-five or seventy colored infantry, more than half of the white soldiers in the camp having been excused from foraging duty, at the sick call in the morning.
"At twelve o'clock noon, the enemy having quietly, and, without being observed, crept near the camp, suddenly advanced at double-quick and opened fire. The cavalry and colored infantry were standing around the fire, while dinner was being taken up, when the enemy was discovered advancing and firing rapidly, from the east, south and west. Riding at full gallop, they passed, on the south, between the camp and the men at the cooking sheds, which were outside and about two hundred feet south of the camp. The colored soldiers and the cavalry at dinner made their way the best they could to the camp, the infantry seizing their muskets and the cavalry their carbines and revolvers, and all commenced a return fire with undaunted bravery. While this attack was being made, the main body of the enemy galloped from the woods skirting Spring River, on the east, and formed in line sixty or eighty rods north of the camp, on the ridge, apparently with the purpose of making a charge upon us, in full force, simultaneously with an attack by the advance, which had passed around the camp, to the west.
"At the first attack Lieutenant Pond had unlimbered the howitzer, manned it the best he could and had loaded it himself with twelve-pound shell. No one of the command knew anything of artillery drill, and, on this account the fuse was not cut. The shot fell short of the enemy and did no harm; but the firing of the cannon gave them notice that we had such an instrument of death in our hands. Men never fought more willingly and courageously. For twenty minutes there was a ceaseless rattle of musketry and revolvers and the booming of the cannon. After the first dash the enemy, on the west, retreated, scattered and fought from shelter behind trees and from the north bank of the creek, and at the expiration of half an hour, unaccountably to us, they withdrew from the fight, one by one. The main body, on the north, countermarched back to the woods, and then advanced toward us again, though as if undecided whether to attack us or not. They then returned to the woods again.
"All was now quiet, like the calm after a furious storm, and we had time to make a list of the casualities[sic. Of the forces at the Springs, eight white soldiers and one colored soldier were killed, and about fifteen were wounded, including one woman, shot through the heel, and a little child shot through the lungs. Lieutenant Cook and a man who was with him were killed, they being out in the woods practicing with their revolvers at the time. The husband of the wounded woman and the father of the wounded woman and the father of the wounded child, were shot, in cold blood, the latter by a cousin and former schoolmate.About six other married men were killed. A teamster, seeing an old acquaintance among the advancing enemy, tossed his revolver toward him, in token of his surrender, was immediately shot through the abdomen, by his former neighbor and friend, and the poor man died in thirty minutes. The colored man who was killed had seen his former master and was running to meet him, with joyous acclaim. as the master stood on the hill across the creek. His master shot him through the heart, and his body rolled down the hill into the clear water of the brook.
"For an hour or two all was quiet, with the exception of our preparations for another attack, which we momentarily expected. We did not know who our enemy was, nor why he had so suddenly left us; but we fully expected him to return. We afterward learned that the enemy was the notorious Quantrell and his guerrillas.
"About two or three o'clock in the afternoon Maj. B. S. Henning, of General Blunt's staff, rode into camp and told us of the massacre on the prairie; and he called on Lieutenant Pond for a volunteer guard of two or three men, to return with him to search for General Blunt, who he believed, was alive and was hiding somewhere in the vicinity of the massacre. The guard was furnished; and soon after the Major left us a messenger, bearing a flag of truce, approached our camp. He brought from Quantrell a request for an exchange of prisoners. As we had taken no prisoners, Lieutenant Pond, as an answer to the request, sent a proposition, that each party should unconditionally release all the prisoners he held. Soon after this, out on the prairie west of us, we heard quick, successive reports of firearms; and it is probable that the prisoners taken by Quantrell were then being shot.
"Soon after this, Quantrell, at the head of his entire force of about three hundred men, approached our camp, as we had anticipated, formed in line of battle and halted on the south bank of the creek. where Baxter Springs now stands, about eighty rods southwest of our camp. Our men all quietly awaited his charge. prepared and determined to give him a warm reception. The gap on the west side of our camp had been closed. by placing sutler wagons, poles, rails, ropes and everything else that could be used, and it would have been difficult for cavalry to make a successful charge upon us from that direction, especially as our howitzer was mounted conspicuously in the front and was happily manned by skilled men who knew artillery practice. Knowing our enemy, all of us, white men and black men, were determined to sell our lives as dearly as possible, and to die rather than to surrender, for to surrender would have been certain death, any way. We remained thus for thirty minutes; it might have been longer, when he suddenly wheeled and left us, marching southwardly, and, to our great relief, we saw him no more.
"About sundown Major Henning returned to our camp, accompanied by General Blunt. After dark the few wounded men from the prairie came into our camp, one by one. Most of them were so disfigured that they could scarcely be identified. All of them had been left on the prairie as dead. Jack Arnold came in with five or six wounds in the face, which could not be recognized as belonging to a human being. Others had received from five to eight wounds in different parts of their bodies; but most of the wounds were in the face and head. Those who had escaped being killed did so by feigning to be dead. Even with their wounds, which put them in great pain and suffering, they were rejoiced to find us still alive and in possession of the little fort. It had been generally believed, after the battle with General Blunt's command, that our garrison had been captured in the morning, as Quantrell, when first seen by them, was coming from the direction of the camp. Quantrell's men were dressed in the Federal uniform, and on this account, when seen by General Blunt's command, they were taken to be friends. coming to escort the General and his bodyguard into the fort. General Blunt had halted his command and ordered his headquarters band in front. The members of the band had arranged themselves in position and had their music in readiness for playing a welcome to their supposed friends. General Blunt and his staff were in an ambulance, their horses being led by orderlies. All were joyous, in anticipation of an immediate march into our camp, a hearty dinner and a good night's rest among friends. At this moment Quantrell gave the order for a charge upon General Blunt's command. This was instantly obeyed, and the charge came with terrific force, each of Quantrell's men having a revolver in each hand, firing and yelling like demons, which they were. General Blunt's little command was in the worst possible condition successfully to resist the onslaught. No concerted action could be had. Each must fight or flee for himself, so complete was the surprise and overwhelming the charge. General Blunt gave no command; for a command would have been of no avail. As their foe his soldiers soon learned that it was Quantrell, who, six weeks before, had sacked and burned Lawrence, and had there murdered two hundred men, in cold blood. For General Blunt's men, or for most of them, there was no possible escape. Only a few got away, and these were on the fleetest horses. The band had a fine wagon, built for their especial use, and they wore elegant uniforms, with side arms, fancy swords and revolvers, made not for fighting but for show. They were not enlisted soldiers. Upon realizing the situation, the driver wheeled his horses westward and undertook to escape by rapid driving; but in less than a mile he was overtaken and he and every member of the band were shot dead. Fire was set to the wagon and many of their bodies were burned so they could not be identified. Their bodies had been stripped of all valuables.
"General Blunt and Major Curtis, his adjutant, saw two openings in the enemy's ranks. General Blunt told Major Curtis to run through one of the openings, saying he would try the other. General Blunt escaped; but the body of Major Curtis was found next day with a bullet through his temple. His revolver lay near him.
"On the 7th of October all our available force was kept busy, from early light until darkness covered the field, searching for the dead and bringing them into camp. Quantrell had done his work thoroughly. Evidently, it was his intention that no man should be left alive. If any mercy was shown, it was that all but one man had been shot through the temple, thus causing instant death. Ninety-three men had been shot down, in cold blood, after surrendering without firing a gun. These, with the eight men we lost in the battle at the fort, made 101. Quantrell lost only two men, and these were killed in the battle at the fort. It is true history, I believe, though given otherwise by some, that in the battle on the prairie (if it can be called a battle) the Federal soldiers made no stand and did not fire a gun; that they ran as soon as they realized that they were being charged by an enemy, and that many of the men threw away their carbines to lighten their weight.
"General Blunt. with his command, was on his way from Fort Scott to Fort Gibson, where a department had been established for him. He was marching through the country without exercising the precaution of keeping out an advance guard. though it was a time when numerous marauding bands were going here and there, and when there was momentary liability of being attacked. .After suffering this sad misfortune, he desisted from his purpose of going on to Fort Gibson, remained in camp at Baxter Springs five or six days and then r~ turned to Fort Scott."
It is believed that many more of General Blunt's soldiers were killed than those found on the ground where the massacre took place. Occasionally, for as many as 20 years after the event, human bones were found in the vicinity of Baxter Springs; and it is believed that they were the bones of some of the men who broke through the ranks of Quantrell's soldiers and were pursued here and there and shot down wherever overtaken. On June 24, l0,04, A. S. Dennison, who was sheriff of Cherokee County in the early "eighties" showed me over the grounds where the massacre occurred, and he pointed out the positions of the forces of the two commanders, the place where the dead were buried and many other things of interest in connection with the affair. He also told me that, while sheriff of the county, he found a number of human skulls on the prairie west of Baxter Springs, which he supposed were those of some of the unfortunate victims of the fury and bloody work of the men under Quantrell
Early in the year 1903 lead and zinc were discovered. in paying quantities, just south of Baxter Springs, and since then a number of mines have been opened. Extensive operations are now going on. Prospecting has beer extended well into the Indian Territory, but not so far away but that the work is yet within the Baxter Springs district, which gives promise of becoming one of the best districts in all: the lead and zinc region.
Elsewhere mention is largely made of the dams which are being built on Spring River for the purpose of generating electric power. Baxter Springs, the center of which is only two and a half miles, on a direct line, from the dam at Lowell, will be supplied with electric power, for all purposes. The electric railroad is to be extended from Galena, by the way of Lowell, to Baxter Springs, and it is expected that it will go out to the mines south of the city, There is no doubt that the city and the immediately surrounding country will become a thickly settled, very busy manufacturing district in the near future.
The following are the names of some of the people of Baxter Springs who have remained at their posts and have built comfortable, elegant homes: John M. Cooper, J. J. Fribley, C. W. Daniels, J. C. Haskett. S. O. Noble, C. F. Noble, T. J. Morrow, R. H. Sands, L. M. Perkins, J. C. Plumb, F. M. Perkins, W. T .Hartley, James Hartley, Mrs. A. S. Hornor, C. A. Childs, Charles L. Smith, Mrs. Emma Gregg, A. L. Kane, Julius Bischofsberger, William F, Shailer, W. F. Douthat, Mrs. Carrie DeWitt, Willard Shultz, R. J. Hiner, A. Willard, Ed Corey, L. R. Francis, George Haines, Samuel H. Smith, T. Connor, J. B. Opperman, R. Milne, M. H. Eastham, A. D. C. Harvey, R. C. Wear, R. C. Rummel, Capt. J. S. Price, Burton Smith, T. C. Weaver, T. E. Meads and A. C. Direley.
Ch. 12 -- History of Columbus, Cherokee County, Kansas